Hands-On Vanguard
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Gameplay: Myth vs. Reality



Once you’ve created your
character, you’re going to want to step into
Vanguard’s world of Telon
and start playing. I started my beta experience back in beta 2.5 (a
month or two before a character wipe and the arrival of beta 3) as a
denizen of Thestra, Vanguard's Western European themed continent. My
initial impression of Vanguard was,  style="font-style: italic;">Hey, this plays like EverQuest.
(And since Sigil's CEO, Brad McQuaid, and President, Jeff Butler, were
some of the principle forces behind EQ, that makes sense.) The
game’s
controls and interface had a familiar feel and yet, in a modern game
setting, they felt archaic. I experienced an almost immediate sense of
disappointment. Where’s
the innovation?
I wondered.



But
things are changing in beta, and the game has come a very long way
since late beta 2.5. In fact, every month that passes sees a
significant improvement in Vanguard. It’s not the game that
it was when
I first started out. (Keep that in mind when you’re deciding
whether to
pay attention to early beta leaks.) I almost wish that I would have
started playing Vanguard in beta 3. While it’s fun to see the
game’s
progress, I don’t have a clear idea of what the newbie
experience is
like now as opposed to what it was back in beta 2.5. I can easily
recognize that it’s significantly better, but I’m
not certain I’m
objective as to whether it’s good enough just yet.  



When I was
at the Sigil/SOE press event in October, I mentioned my concerns about
the newbie experience to Vanguard’s technical GM, Paul Luna.
He asked
me where I started playing, and I admitted that I’d first
started off
in Thestra. “Where you start determines how good your
experience is,”
he said. “Play in Qalia. Qalia is much more like what the
game at
launch is going to be.” Since the continent of Thestra, where
I first
began playing Vanguard as an elfin druid, has been closed in beta for a
much-needed revamp...I’ll discuss my more recent experiences
in Qalia
as Paul suggested.



The
Newbie Arrives




My
first character in Qalia after the arrival of beta 3 was a Varathari
(Qalian barbarian) Psionicist. (Please note that class/race combos are subject to change, and this particular combination may or may not be available at release.) I was deposited in the world in front of
a couple of NPCs, both of whom sported shields, illuminated by a yellow
glow, over their heads to indicate that they offered a quest. I
gathered up my quests and I was off.



href="http://vanguard.tentonhammer.com/modules.php?set_albumName=vtth-screenshots&id=Sunset_over_Dark_Horse_Downs_in_Qalia&op=modload&name=Gallery&file=index&include=view_photo.php"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 150px; height: 120px; float: left;"
alt="Shayalyn the Psionicist (click to enlarge)"
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src="http://vanguard.tentonhammer.com/files/gallery/albums/vtth-screenshots/Sunset_over_Dark_Horse_Downs_in_Qalia.thumb.jpg"
hspace="4" vspace="2">The first quest I
undertook
served to introduce me to the game and...it was a dreaded collection
quest. (But collection quests and newbie zones seem to go together,
don’t they?) I was told to gather some lion pelts, and I
quickly
obliged. This simple quest, while unimpressive, serves to introduce you
to the gameplay mechanic through a series of pop-up help windows. You
may be thinking, a
collection quest and pop-up tutorial windows? Been there, done that.

I agree--not a very interesting way to launch a newb’s
career. And so I soldiered on to some more quests.



While
the newbie areas are not without their collection or “kill 10
whatevers” type quests, I’ve found that
they’re not without fun and
engaging lore-rich quests, either. Turns out that the Varathari are a
very horse-centered people. Aside from swatting mutant horseflies to
keep them from pestering the horses (more of that been there, done that
stuff), I was asked to find and retrieve a runaway horse. On certain
quests, you’ll interact with objects in the world. A red
exclamation
point that appears over your cursor indicates an object that you can
right-click to interact with. I found my horse, right-clicked, and
watched as it followed me back to the quest NPC. As the quest
progressed, I learned that the horse was ill and that my assistance was
needed to cure it. I gathered a few more necessary items, and was told
that because of my new bond with the rescued horse, I was the best
person to attempt to heal it.



From things like spooking the
horses belonging to a ring of bandit raiders to collecting souls for a
shady merchant, quests that embrace lore and interaction in Vanguard
are generally interesting and engaging. In fact, the quest involving
the runaway horse branches off into another quest that results in a
nifty reward at later levels, but I won’t spoil the fun.



So,
just as Paul Luna suggested, the newbie experience in Qalia’s
barbarian
outpost of Lomshir is significantly better than it was when I first
arrived in beta 2.5. Sigil has made many improvements. The current
revamp of Thestra suggests that they’re committed to making
these
improvements global before launch. Kudos to Sigil for seeing a problem
and rising to the challenge.



But
Can You Solo?




One
of the more persistent myths about Vanguard is that it’s not
solo-friendly. Perhaps people heard Brad McQuaid stress the importance
of community building in MMOGs and assumed he was against
soloing.
(It’s more likely he was quoted out of context while
discussing why
he’s against instancing, but I digress.) Whatever the reason,
many
gamers seem to believe that they won’t be able to solo in
Vanguard. Is
that reality or myth?



I’m here to tell you that, based on my
experiences so far, it’s most certainly a myth. I have soloed
all of
the various classes I’ve played and faced an appropriate
level of
challenge in doing so. And while certain classes shine as soloists
(yep, the Necro and Druid still kick ass in that department), I
haven’t
come across one yet that absolutely can’t solo. And soloing
isn’t a
meaningless grind, either. There are plenty of solo quests in the game.
In fact, at early levels I’d say that the majority
of them are for solo
adventurers or small groups.



In all fairness, though, I
haven’t progressed past my teens with any one character.
It’s possible
that soloing at higher levels will become increasingly difficult, but
the murmuring I’ve heard from higher level beta
players I’ve talked to
(or listened to in channels) suggests that this is not the case.



Keep
in mind, however, that soloing in Vanguard will generally not be the
most efficient means of progression--grouping is. I’ve earned
enough
experience soloing to feel that I haven’t been spinning my
wheels when
I choose to play alone for an hour or two, but I’ve also
grouped often
enough to know that grouping experience comes a good deal faster.



The
Daily Grind




Here’s another myth for you: Vanguard is all about exp
grinding, just like EQ was.



To
completely shatter this myth would take a ton of compelling and
engaging quests that never result in mindlessly slaughtering foes and
either tallying up a body count or bringing back X number of items to
appease an NPC. When you find an MMO that has this, let me know. I
happen to think that an MMO without
a grind factor is a myth.



You
can, and will, grind in any game. To me the word
“grind” suggests
tedium, but I haven’t found either questing or hunting mobs
for
experience to be tedious so far. Vanguard does have its share of
collection and body count quests...a few too many of them, in fact, for
my taste. However, the Lomshir area in Qalia has been fun and engaging
for me. If this is the model for the revamp of Thestra and for the
future of the not-yet-opened continent of Kojan then I’m
optimistic.



Traveling!



And
what of the grind relating to other time sinks like travel? Vanguard
has limited instant travel options, although some of the massive
premier dungeons will likely have teleporters, as will some ocean
travel (if only to prevent you from having to literally take an hour to
cross between continents). Travel was designed to be part of the
adventure.



Although I’ve only done limited travel so far,
you’ll have to take my word for it that Telon is vast, and
travel can
involve covering a lot of ground in order to get from point A to point
B. So far I haven’t found this particularly difficult or
overly time
consuming. Horses are available to adventurers at around level 10, and
before that you won’t stray far from your homeland, anyhow.
Adventurers
should have access to ships at around level 20, allowing them the
ability to move between continents easier. But don’t count on
ship
travel being insignificant. Your ship can be attacked and boarded
(although actual naval battles won’t be in the game at launch
and are
planned for an expansion). Teleporters will help shorten travel time,
but you’ll still have to do a good bit of sailing to get from
one
continent to another...or so I’ve heard. I haven’t
traveled by ship
just yet.



The
Heat of Battle




href="http://vanguard.tentonhammer.com/modules.php?set_albumName=Vanguard-In-Progress-Screenshots&id=MidLevelBattle009&op=modload&name=Gallery&file=index&include=view_photo.php"> style="border: 0px solid ; width: 150px; height: 94px; float: right;"
alt="Mid-level battle"
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hspace="4" vspace="2">It’s time
I got around to combat. Is it fun? Is it innovative? Gaming minds want
to know.



It’s
fun. But when it comes to innovation, I’m not yet convinced
that
Vanguard is doing anything that goes above and beyond what other games
have already done with combat. Some features, such as sympathetic magic
(spells that ping-pong between arcane casters) and counterspells
(spells that cancel out an enemy’s attack) make combat a bit
more
interesting, but it’s still not as progressive as one might
expect from
a game designed to be The Next Big Thing. And there's still a pretty
significant degree of button mashing. It's not random, but it's button
mashing, nonetheless.



In fairness, combat in Vanguard is still a
work in progress. Certain elements are not ye

t implemented or working
as intended, so it’s difficult to disregard combat as lacking
innovation altogether. Hopefully, the more innovative features are
coming prior to launch. Keep in mind that there are still a couple of
beta phases and several months of development left to go.



Crafting
and Diplomacy




I
know that there are plenty of people who’ll want to know more
about the
other spheres in Vanguard beyond adventuring. Personally,
I’ve been
enjoying adventuring too much to pay attention to them. Of course, I
have the heart of an adventurer--I’ve never been a crafter.
I’m sure
I’ll get around to the other spheres eventually, but
I’ll never be an
expert, so I’m going to let some of our other Ten Ton Hammer
writers
cover them. Look for in-depth coverage or crafting coming soon, with a
peek at diplomacy not far behind.


Coming to Conclusions



Let’s take a look at some of Vanguard’s weaknesses
and strengths:



Concerns


  • The
    marketing paradigm shift from MMOG vet to WoW set will potentially
    alienate the veteran market, but not generate enough interest to draw
    the WoW market
  • There’s not enough of a hook in the newbie
    levels, which may cause some gamers to drop the game without
    subscribing.
  • The
    ambitious nature of Vanguard means a potential to sacrifice polish for
    content. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but Vanguard may lose
    some gamers at early levels.



Kudos


  • Vanguard
    offers a vast, diverse, and immersive world that reeks of potential for
    endless exploration and discovery by players, and nearly infinite
    expansion by Sigil.
  • The game will feel like home to tens of thousands of
    EverQuest veterans, yet still offer a new and different challenge.
  • Classes are diverse and interesting--each one brings
    something new to the table, despite the archetype system.
  • Vanguard boasts an unprecedented number of races and level
    of character customization.
  • Yes, Virginia...you can
    solo!
  • The
    Sigil team is dedicated to making a good game. They listen,
    they’re
    responsive, and they’re passionate about giving gamers a good
    experience in Vanguard. They demonstrated this at the October press
    event I attended, and they continue to demonstrate it in beta and on
    the public forums.



My time in Vanguard so far has provided
enough fun and immersion to hook me on the game. Each week I meet with
a group of friends to explore a dungeon, and I find that I
can’t wait
for the next get-together. I also enjoy soloing across Telon, and find
myself playing longer than I should (and losing sleep as a result).
Vanguard may not be perfect (and what game is?), but it keeps getting
better and better as the months march on toward launch. Whether you cut
your teeth on the likes of EQ, Ultima Online, or Dark age of Camelot,
or just recently joined the MMO craze with a game like WoW,
you’ll want
to give Vanguard a chance to win you over.





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Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016

About The Author

Karen 1
Karen is H.D.i.C. (Head Druid in Charge) at EQHammer. She likes chocolate chip pancakes, warm hugs, gaming so late that it's early, and rooting things and covering them with bees. Don't read her Ten Ton Hammer column every Tuesday. Or the EQHammer one every Thursday, either.

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